7 Ways to Simplify Your Digital Life

Thursday, February 16, 2017

As most of you know by now, Mike and I have hopped on the minimalism train and we're working to simplify our lives in 2017. Hence, my word of the year. Each month, we're choosing a new area of our lives to simplify and then posting about the progress and what we've learned for those who may be interesting in trying it too.

In January, we focused entirely on simplifying our social media and screen time. As sort of a summary of our progress, I thought I'd post 7 ways to simplify your digital life in case anyone out there was looking for a way to get started!

1. Turn off notifications. 
This has actually had the biggest impact for me so far. The first thing I did on New Years Day was go through all the settings on my phone to turn off all notifications that weren't absolutely necessary. No alerts, no dings, no buzzing, no badge app icons, nothing. The only time I get a notification now is when I've gotten a text message, phone call, or I need to update my phone's software. AND IT'S BEEN SO LIBERATING. For me, the goal behind this was to eliminate distractions and to stop feeling like I needed to constantly be in the loop. I check the apps to get updates when I want to and only retrieve new information when I need it. It's not really important for me to know the exact moment that someone emails me or likes my photo on Facebook or pins something I might like on Pinterest. If that ever becomes necessary, I can turn the notifications back on, but for now I absolutely love having a screen devoid of little red bubbles. Not having the constant flow of data in my face 24/7 has been completely refreshing.

2. Create some device distance.
The second thing we did was purchase a device docking station and set it up in our kitchen area. When we get home after work, we've been trying to get in the habit of putting our phones and tablets on the chargers in the dock and leaving them there for the evening. So far, it's really improved the time we spend together. It's almost embarrassing to think how many nights we would come home and lay on the couch for hours with our phones in hand, barely even speaking to one another. Creating some space between you and your device is not just good for you, it's good for those around you. You'll feel more connected, more engaged, more productive, and if you struggle getting sleep at night, you may notice a difference there too. It's helped immensely with my insomnia. Keeping technology out of the bedroom and eliminating screens at bedtime (and purchasing a real alarm clock to wake us in the morning) has made a huge difference in my quality of sleep.

3. Unsubscribe.
Raise your hand if you get more than fifty emails a day that you never open, about useless things that you'll probably never use or buy? Me too. The sheer volume of ads and offers and junk flowing into my inbox every day was overwhelming. I got so sick and tired of feeling like I had no control over my inbox that I decided to finally tackle the mess that lived there. In one afternoon, I went through and unsubscribed from just about everything. If you use Mail on iOS10, you may have noticed a handy "Unsubscribe" feature at the top of some of your emails. Mail actually scans your inbox for any email that's part of a mailing list and all you have to do is click the unsubscribe button at the top and the work is done for you!

4. Clean up your apps.
One of my biggest goals for this first month was to get rid of any apps that were no longer purposeful. In this day and age where so many details about our lives are posted online, I wanted to try and take back the reigns on what info I was sharing and where it was being shared. I deleted Snapchat, Twitter, Periscope, Google+, and even my old Myspace! I had to do a little troubleshooting to get into my account and it made me super nostalgic when I finally got in, but I'm glad to know that none of those accounts are still floating around the interweb. For the sites I decided to keep, I narrowed it down to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. These are the apps that I use frequently and they all have a specific purpose. While I was at it, I decided to clean them up a bit too. I deleted old pictures, unfollowed people I was no longer in touch with, got rid of old groups and page likes that were no longer relevant, went through tons of messages (it's almost scary how much Facebook archives!), adjusted privacy settings, and more. It took me a while, but I felt like I had much more control over my social media presence when I was done.

5. Cut cable.
This was the toughest of them all. I've seen many of my friends moving away from the big cable companies for simpler setups and after much consideration, we jumped ship too. We wavered for a while on this one since Mike and I have quite the habit of binging shows when we get home from work after a long day, and Mike wasn't sure how he would get past not having the ability to watch sports at home, but in the end we decided to cut the cord and we're so glad we did. We have long been happy Verizon customers, but when I called to try and remove my cable service from our plan, I was met with much resistance. The lady on the phone was incredibly rude and aggressive (as I'm sure they're told to be, to make it difficult to cancel), so much so that I hung up on her. I did learn a trick though - if you go online and cancel via the online chat tool, the reps are much nicer and don't hassle you! I had everything canceled in about 10 minutes. Now we've got Chromecast, Netflix, HBO, Showtime, and all the network apps ready to cast at a moments notice. It's nice not having the hefty cable bill every month for a ton of channels we don't watch and also feeling like we've got more time on our hands. We still get to watch the news with dinner and stream our favorite shows from time-to-time, but we don't get sucked into hours of lazy, mindless TV every night on the couch. Win-win!

6. Release the pressure.
This one was for me only. I often put a lot of unreal pressures on myself to keep up with what's going on in the blogosphere. I don't monetize my blog, or promote it at all really, but over the last year or so, I've felt immense pressure to do so. I see so many other amazing, mega-successful bloggers out there absolutely killing it and it's hard not to compare followers, likes, and shares. It's made me feel so behind and so inadequate for not posting more or sharing more or getting more comments or more likes or followers. So last month, in an effort to eliminate those pressures, I officially took myself out of the race. For now, TLWI will remain a space for me and the handful of incredibly dedicated readers I have. Truthfully, I don't think I have the time or energy to dedicate to making my blog anything else - and that's okay. Please don't misunderstand me though. I'm not saying that using your blog as a source of income is a bad thing at all. In fact it's a GREAT thing and I deeply admire those that do! I completely understand how much effort it takes to make a blog successful and I know that it's no cake walk. It's just for me, I don't ever want this space to feel like a job. I started this thing to document our lives and also as a creative outlet, because I enjoy writing. I don't ever want that to change. So for now, I've stopped stressing about blog stats and the frequency of my posts and I'm trying to focus on generating fewer more thoughtful posts and fostering the few relationships I've formed here. It's like they say about friendships, "I'd rather have four quarters than one hundred pennies."

7. Just turn it off. 
Try setting limits for how and when you use your devices. Our goal has been to try and reduce our screen time by putting down our phones more often and focusing on reconnecting with everyone and everything around us. Sometimes it's harder than expected. Regardless of where I am or what I'm doing, I still feel the need to pick up my phone and look at it every few minutes, even when I'm trying hard to focus on a conversation at dinner or analyzing some data at work. It's become an unconscious reflex. To help with this, I've found that turning off my phone entirely works best. I may still pick it up, but I'm less tempted to start flipping through my usual pages if it's powered down entirely. Of course, it's always easier said than done, but even if it's just for one day or an afternoon a week, you'll notice how much of a difference it makes.

Have you cut cable or tried simplifying your social media accounts? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Key West and Mexico

Friday, February 3, 2017

I'm writing this post from the front porch at my grandma's house in Florida where it's currently 78 degrees and all kinds of gorgeous. There are herons sauntering across the road, Spanish moss hanging from the tree in her front yard, and little salamanders darting around in the mulch to my left.  I was planning to wait until I got back to Baltimore to share photos from our trip, but it's too nice here not to write a little about it now, while I've got the free time. Once I land at home, it'll be back to work and classes full-time, so let's soak up the vacation a little longer, shall we?

We set sail on the Brilliance of the Seas last Saturday for a cruise out of Tampa with my grandma, aunt from Chicago, and my parents. It's been forever since I've been on a long vacation with my mom and dad and I only get to see my aunt and grandma a couple times a year (if that), so it was wonderful to spend some quality time with them all.

Our first destination was a new one for all of us - Key West!

We were supposed to go parasailing when we got there Sunday afternoon, but the weather was awful and our excursion was canceled. It may have been 70 degrees, but with the clouds, rain, and wind, it felt like 40. We were all pretty bummed since this was only one of two destinations on our vacation and we felt a bit cheated out of the nice summery weather. I feel like I've gotten pretty lucky since this wast the first time I've ever had bad weather on a cruise, so I guess it was bound to happen at some point. While the rest of the family went out for a museum tour, Mike and I opted to switch to a historic bar crawl and it turned out to be the best decision we'd make all week.

Our tour guide was Trumpet Bob. He wore funny shoes, a colorful cheeseburger necklace, and a large top hat. He drank with us the entire way and was full of stories and dirty jokes. At each of the stops along Duval Street, where there are 117 bars in the 2-mile stretch, he would assemble our group when it was time to move onto the next bar by blowing a conch shell. Halfway through the crawl, he stopped in an alley to have a conch-blowing contest. I'm sure you can imagine the jokes already. He had us in stitches the whole time. Aside from the laughs, it was also cool to have him point out little historic tidbits about the buildings, streets, and landmarks around Key West. He's lived there his whole life, so he really had a wealth of knowledge to share.

Ernest Hemingway's frequent hangout

After spending the entire day drinking, it's amazing to me that we made it back to the ship. Of course, we ended up hopping on the very last shuttle, at the very last second, only to find out we were the very last people to check back onboard. (Thanks, Bob!) Needless to say, we barely made it to dinner and passed out pretty early that night.

Thankfully, the next day was a recovery day at sea. We spent most of our time on the ship hanging out in the pool, in the hot tubs, listening to the live music, getting massages at the spa, and playing games with our family. For us, this cruise was more about rest and relaxation than hitting all the events and entertainment.

Our second and final destination was Cozumel, Mexico. Mike and I have been to Cozumel a few times on previous cruises, so we decided to book an all-day excursion with my aunt to go snorkeling all over the Yucatán Peninsula. Our first stop was Dos Ojos Cenote, which is a flooded cave system in the northern area of Tulum, Mexico. Cenotes are basically large natural sinkholes that occur from the degradation of limestone, exposing the groundwater upon their collapse. The Dos Ojos Cenotes were located on a Mayan reservation and so the cultural aspects of the area were really apparent. We learned a lot about the Mayan people, their practices, and how they believed the cenotes to be the entrance to the underworld. 

We saw all kinds of rock formations, stalagmites, stalactites, and marine life in the crystal clear blue water. While the parts we snorkeled in consisted entirely of freshwater, the scuba divers we saw got to explore much deeper into the caves and saw where the heavier underground salt water meets the fresh water. I would love to get scuba certified some day to see it!

After the cenotes in Akumal, we headed to the beach to snorkel near Playa del Carmen. We got up close to mama and baby sea turtles, the coral reef, sting rays, and all sorts of colorful fish. The only downside is that the entire day, we went without sunscreen. Because of the reef and the health of the turtles, the government is pretty strict about not applying anything that could potential harm the marine life. Needless to say, I got burned and Mike got a nice tan. Story of my life. 

We had the best lunch at this little place right off the beach in downtown Playa del Carmen. I couldn't tell you what it was called or where it was because they literally drove us to the center of town, dropped us, and then we walked along the beach until we found the restaurant, but I do know it was somewhere near Calle 6 Norte. It didn't have any signs but the food was authentic and amazing and I could've stayed there eating cochinita pibil and drinking margaritas for the rest of my life. I love having a tour guide who actually believes in showing tourists how the locals eat. It's always disappointing when they drop you off in an area where the restaurant selection consists of only Hard Rock Cafes and Señor Frogs. This was not the case this time, and I was a happy, happy girl. 

Now it's February and time to get back to the routine but it was nice to let loose and thaw out down south for a bit. Hopefully we can get through these next few months quickly and hop into a nice warm spring at the end of March! Happy Friday everyone!

P.S. - We made a little vacation video to remember some of the fun. Please don't judge, we have no idea what we're doing and are basically complete morons when it comes to video technology, ha!